Ezra Stiles

    STILES (EZRA, D.D.), president of Yale college, was the son of the reverend Isaac Stiles of North Haven, Connecticut, and was born December 15, 1727.   He was graduated at the seminary, over which he was destined to preside, in 1746, and in 1749 was chosen tutor, in which station he remained six years.  After having preached occasionally his impaired health and some doubt respecting the truth of Christianity induced him to pursue the study of the law.  In 1753 he took the attorney's oath at New Haven, and practised at the bar till 1755.  But having resumed preaching, on the twenty second of October in this latter year he was ordained minister of the second congregational church in Newport, Rhode Island.  In March 1776 the events of the war dispersed his congregation, and induced him to remove to Dighton.  He afterwards preached for some time at Portsmouth.  In 1777 he was chosen president of Yale college, as successor of Mr. Clap.  He was not desirous of this honor, for he loved retirement; but he was persuaded to accept it.  He was installed July 8, 1778, and he continued in this station till his death May 12, 1795, in the sixty eighth year of his age.  Dr. Stiles was one of the most learned men, of whom this country can boast.  He had a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages, the former of which he learned when he was about forty years of age; he had made considerable progress in the Samaritan, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic; on the Persic and Coptic he had bestowed some attention; and the French he read with great facility.  He was also well versed in most branches of mathematical knowledge.  Next to sacred literature astronomy was his favorite science.  He had read the works of divines in various languages, and very few have had so thorough an acquaintance with the fathers of the Christian church.  He possessed an intimate acquaintance with the Rabbinical writings.  He was a most impressive and eloquent preacher, for he spoke with that zeal and energy, which the deepest interest in the most important subjects cannot fail to inspire. His early discourses were philosophical and moral; but he gradually became a serious and powerful preacher of the momentous truths of the gospel.  In the room of labored disquisitions addressed rather to the reason than to the conscience and heart, he employed his time in preaching repentance and faith, the great truths respecting our disease and cure, the physician of souls and our remedy in him, the manner in which the sinner is brought home to God in regeneration, justification, sanctification, and eternal glory, the terrors and blessings of the world to come, the influence of the Holy Spirit and the efficacy of the truth in the great change of the character, preparatory for heaven.  The doctrines of the trinity in unity, of the divinity and atonement of Christ, with the capital principles of the great theological system of the doctrines of grace he believed to have been the uninterrupted faith of eight tenths of Christendom from the ascension of Jesus Christ to the present day.  This system, he observed to his flock, I have received from God in the scriptures of truth, and on the review of my ministry I hope you will find, that I have preached the unsearchable riches of Christ.   He delighted in preaching the gospel to the poor.  Among the members of his church at Newport were seven negroes.  These occasionally met in his study, when he instructed them, and falling on their knees together he implored for them and for himself the blessing of that God, with whom all distinction excepting that of Christian excellence is as nothing.  In the cause of civil and religious liberty Dr. Stiles was an enthusiast.  He contended, that the right of conscience and private judgment was unalienable; and that no exigencies of the Christian church could render it lawful to erect any body of men into a standing judicatory over the churches.  He engaged with zeal in the cause of his country.  He thought, that the thirtieth of January, which was observed by the episcopalians in commemoration of the martyrdom of Charles I, "ought to be celebrated as an anniversary thanksgiving, that one nation on earth had so much fortitude and public justice, as to make a royal tyrant bow to the sovereignty of the people."  He was catholic in his sentiments, for his heart was open to receive all, who loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity.  He was conspicuous for his benevolence, as well as for his learning and piety.  The following extracts from his diary furnish evidence of his Christian goodness.   "The review of my life astonishes me with a sense of my sins.  May I be washed in the blood of Jesus, which cleanseth from all sin.  Purify and sanctify me, O blessed Spirit! --- I hope I love my Savior for his divine excellencies, as well as for his love to sinners; I glory in his divine righteousness; and earnestly beseech the God of all grace to endue me with true and real holiness, and to make me like himself.  --- I have earnestly importuned the youth of this university to devote themselves to that divine Jesus, who hath loved them to the death.  And praised be God, I have reason to hope the blessed Spirit hath wrought effectually on the hearts of sundry, who have, I think, been brought home to God, and experienced what flesh and blood cannot impart to the human mind.  Whether I shall ever get to heaven, and through many tribulations enter into rest, God only knows.  This I know, that I am one of the most unworthy of all the works of God."  Though in the first stage of his last sickness he expressed awful apprehension of standing at the divine tribunal; yet his hopes of heaven brightened as he approached the grave, and he departed in great calmness and peace.

    He was a man of low stature, and of a small though well proportioned form.  His voice was clear and energetic.  His countenance especially in conversation was expressive of benignity and mildness; but if occasion required, it became the index of majesty and authority.  He published a funeral oration in Latin on governor Law, 1751; a discourse on the Christian union, preached before the congregational ministers of Rhode Island, 1760; in this work he recommends harmony among differing Christians, and shows an intimate acquaintance with the ecclesiastical affairs of this country; a sermon at the installation of reverend Samuel Hopkins, 1770; a Latin oration on his induction into his office of president, 1778; the United States elevated to glory and honor, an election sermon, preached May 8, 1783, which exhibits the eloquence, and patriotism, and glowing sentiments of liberty, with which the august occasion could not fail to inspire him; a sermon at the ordination of the reverend Henry Channing at New London, 1787; history of the three judges of king Charles I, Whalley, Goffe, and Dixwell, 12 mo, 1795; in this work he discloses very fully his sentiments on civil liberty, and predicts a "republican renovation" in England. He left an unfinished ecclesiastical history of New England, and more than forty volumes of manuscripts.  An interesting account of his life was published by his son in law, the reverend Dr. Holmes, in 1798.  --- Holmes' life of Stiles; Meigs' oration, and Trumbull's, Dana's, and Patten's sermons on his death; Assemb. miss. mag. i. 163-169.

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Biography of Ezra Stiles is from: William Allen, An American Biographical and Historical Dictionary, Containing an Account of the Lives, Characters, and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons in North America from Its First Discovery to the Present Time, and a Summary of the History of the Several Colonies and of the United States (Cambridge: William Hilliard, 1809), pp. 525-527.]

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